Ontario is falling short of its 2025 goal to ensure the province’s 1.8 million people with disabilities have the opportunity to learn, work and play to their full potential, warns a review of the government’s landmark accessibility legislation.
The periodic review, mandated by the legislation, documents the “slow and challenging implementation to date” and urges the government to “show leadership that will breathe new life” into the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act (AODA).
The province must lead by example and the “premier should explicitly and prominently direct all ministries to treat accessibility as a key government-wide priority,” Mayo Moran says in her report, released Friday.
“The commitment of the premier and, through her, the government of Ontario can make a critical difference at this time,” says Moran, a University of Toronto law professor and provost of Trinity College.
Moran’s report echoes the legislation’s first independent review by former Progressive Conservative Charles Beer, whose 2010 report also bemoaned the government’s lacklustre efforts and called for “more focused attention at the highest levels of government.”
The act, passed unanimously in 2005, directs the government to develop, implement and enforce accessibility standards for with disabilities with respect to goods, services, facilities, accommodation, employment and buildings by 2025.
But as Moran found in her review, the regulations are still too weak for people with disabilities and too confusing for businesses and municipalities to implement.
“I strongly urge . . . the government to make simplification and clarity key objectives when reviewing the current standards or developing new ones,” she says in the report.
One of the most common complaints from people with disabilities are inaccessible buildings. And yet retrofits are not covered by the legislation, says Moran, who suggests the government show how they are good for business.
Economic Development Minister Brad Duguid, who is responsible for implementing the legislation, acknowledged the challenges ahead.
“I recognize that there is always more work to do, and we are already moving forward on a number of provost Moran’s recommendations,” he said in a statement.
“Over the coming months, I look forward to making further announcements in response to this review and to continuing our discussions with experts, persons with disabilities and the business community.”
Accessibility advocates praised Moran’s “ground-breaking” report for its detailed analysis and for reflecting the disappointment of people with disabilities who said they haven’t seen much improved accessibility to jobs, or goods or services in the public or private sector.
“The bottom line is, more than 10 of the 20 years are up and we have not made real progress that is affecting the lives of people with disabilities,” said David Lepofsky of the AODA Alliance, a coalition of accessibility activists dedicated to ensuring the legislation’s success.
“They are good at ticking boxes, but not in producing results that affect us,” said Lepofsky, a lawyer who is blind.
As a first step, Premier Kathleen Wynne should keep her election promises to instruct all cabinet ministers and other senior government officials to implement all their accessibility duties and pledges, and to establish a toll-free number for the public to report AODA violations, he added.
Lepofsky praised the government for announcing Friday that is moving ahead on the alliance’s three-year battle to create a new accessibility standard to address barriers in health care. But the alliance is disappointed the government hasn’t committed to tackling barriers in education and housing, also highlighted in Moran’s report.
“How long do kids have to wait before they can have an accessible education?” he said. “If our goal is to try and create employment for people with disabilities, kids with disabilities need to be able to get a proper education.”
Lepofsky was also frustrated that the report was initially posted online in a format that was inaccessible for him to read.
“If they don’t understand that was an accessibility problem, that’s proof of the problem,” he said.
A spokeswoman for Duguid said the online report met accessibility standards and that an alternate version that Lepofsky could read was sent by email to him at the same time as other stakeholders.